One half down, one half to go.
We've officially hit the midway point of the 2019-2020 NHL season and to say that the first half of this campaign was eventful would be something of a colossal understatement. We had stunning starts -- both of the good and bad variety -- and swift falls. We had a handful of coach firings. We had a blockbuster trade. We had a whole lot of very fun hockey.
And now we've got just as much in front of us as we do behind us. In a sense, it feels like we know quite a lot about this season. But, in another very real sense, it feels like we don't know anything at all.
If there is one thing we know right now, it's that the Atlantic division looks a lot more interesting than it did throughout most of the first half. The Bruins surged out of the gate and held a comfortable lead at the top of the division while their expected challengers, namely the Maple Leafs and Lightning, got off to thoroughly unimpressive starts. But Toronto and Tampa have begun to click recently while the Bruins have battled issues and lost ground.
Now, the Leafs and Bolts are duking it out for position behind Boston and, if this keeps up, both of their footsteps may continue to get louder and louder behind the Bruins. Most of us expected the Atlantic to be a three-team race with Boston, Toronto and Tampa jockeying for position at the top, but we didn't expect it to play out like this.
For this week's Power Rankings, we'll consider preseason outlooks and determine whether each team's first half was better, worse or as expected.
|Better. Not even an opposition's empty-netter to double a lead with a minute left in regulation can keep these guys down. There are certain teams you look at and feel like they've got some sort of magic behind them. The Caps are obviously talented but they've also got great team chemistry and rarely seem to be out of games. They're pretty special this year.||1||13-5-0|
|Better. Their stay at the top of the rankings was short-lived, as the Blues' eight-game winning streak was snapped as they struggled on a tough road trip. St. Louis dropped three straight (0-2-1) to the Coyotes, Avs and Golden Knights. The good news is those are three solid teams and the Blues are going to be fine.||1||13-8-0|
|Better. Shall we spin the wheel and see which key Penguins player is going to suffer a brutal long term injury this week? Ah hell, it doesn't even matter. This team somehow just keeps thriving in the face of adversity. Oh, and Sidney Crosby is almost back. Part of me hopes they struggle when he does finally return, just for the takes.||1||12-8-0|
|Worse. The Leafs had a tumultuous start to the year but they've turned it around and now find themselves in the top five. Who would have thunk it a few months ago? Yes, they put up a stinker against the Oilers on Monday night and, yes, Connor McDavid sent Morgan Rielly's jock into Toronto's dusty rafters, but it was also Toronto's first loss in regulation since December 12th. The Leafs have been the best team in the league since Sheldon Keefe took over behind the bench. They're not perfect but they're finally playing to their strengths and having fun doing it.||3||18-4-0|
|Worse. Much like the Leafs, we've been waiting for the Golden Knights to find their stride and take their place among the league's elite all season. They'd shown flashes amid inconsistency, but they finally seem to be putting it together. They're riding a four game win streak and Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are ripping it up for these guys.||4||14-4-0|
|Worse. Finishing up the natural hat trick of Teams we've Been Waiting To Put It Together, the Bolts have been incredible of late and are starting to climb out of a very mediocre first half hole. They're riding a seven-game win streak and are 11-3-1 in their last 15. Two of those losses came against the league-best Caps, another came against the Islanders and the other came against the Stars in overtime. In other words, Tampa is once again extremely tough to beat and you're looking like a fool if you counted them out.||7||15-4-0|
|Better. The Bruins better be careful. That luxurious double-digit lead they once held over the rest of the teams in the Atlantic division standings is slowly starting to be chipped away by the surging Maple Leafs and Lightning. Boston has has continued to struggle to close out games and they've lost 11 of their last 15. The saving grace there is that they've gotten a loser's point in six of those losses, but their inability to win in OT or shootout might prove to be costly if Toronto and Tampa continue to creep.||4||12-5-0|
|Slightly better. They picked up a couple of nice back-to-back wins against the Blues and Devils before being shut out by the Islanders on Long Island. They've lost seven of their last 11 and seem to be fighting it right now but they'll probably get back on track soon.||2||12-7-0|
|Better. They got back into the win column with a win over Colorado on Monday but they've scored a total of two goals over their last three games. We all know offense isn't their identity but it feels like they're probably going to need to kick it up a notch in that department.||4||12-6-0|
|As expected. Four wins in a row, including an awesome comeback in an extremely fun Winter Classic that apparently nobody watched. They'll have a pretty good opportunity to build on that momentum with their California road trip this week.||1||6-7-0|
|Slightly worse. It's truly incredible how much trouble the Hurricanes have had with Metro opponents this year. They have exactly one win against a divisional rival since October 11th, which is wild considering they're on pace for just about 100 points this season. They currently sit in a Wild Card spot and if they want to play themselves into the top three they're going to have to start beating those close to them.||1||15-6-0|
|Slightly worse. Do people realize how good Jonathan Huberdeau is and has been for this Panthers team? He's got 20 points in his last 10 games and is pacing 111 points this year. Florida needs to figure it out so that some of their elite talent can get the shine they deserve.||2||13-4-0|
|Better. The Canucks are a tough team to figure out but they're currently running a seven-game win streak. They've got a tough five-game road trip ahead of them and if they can come up with an impressive win over red-hot Tampa, it'll be the first time the franchise has won eight in a row since the 2011 Stanley Cup runner-up team did it. Not bad for a team that's still growing and finding their way.||4||9-15-0|
|Better. Listen, I don't want to incite panic, but if BOTH of their goaltenders are out with significant longer-term injuries then they're probably screwed.||2||10-9-0|
|As expected. The Flyers have been incredibly inconsistent and unpredictable all year long and right now they're in a bad way. They lost four of five on a west coast road trip in which they were outscored 23-12. it's really ugly at the moment, which probably means that a six-game winning streak isn't too far away.||7||11-5-0|
|Worse. The Flames have cooled off since their post-coaching change win streak and they're back to looking rather average. Their goaltending has been shaky lately and they'd better hope that trend doesn't continue as they look to hang around in the Pacific playoff picture through the second half, but they've got a good chance to add to their roster thanks to the financial breathing room provided by the Michael Frolik trade.||1||10-11-0|
|Better. The Wild haven't been great at holding leads this year and their struggling penalty kill is a big reason why. For a team that's probably going to find themselves on the bubble down the stretch, they can't afford to be giving away points.||1||12-7-0|
|Worse. The firing of Peter Laviolette is unfortunate but also seemingly overdue, although I don't know how much you can blame him for his goalies being rather stinky this year. The Preds still have talent on the roster and good underlying 5-on-5 numbers, so if they can get better in net and improve on special teams I wouldn't count them out. Maybe the change behind the bench ignites a spark.||1||10-12-0|
|Better. I'm still not convinced Columbus is any good, especially with all the significant injuries they've been dealt lately, but they've secured 17 of their last 22 possible points and are sticking around in the face of adversity. That's pretty impressive for a team that doesn't exactly jump off the page.||4||9-10-0|
|Slightly worse. Chicago is still last in the Central and probably isn't worth putting a lot of faith in but they have won four of five and seven of 10. That's a start as they try to save their season, but looking at the teams they'd need to leapfrog in that division, it's tough to imagine themselves getting into the Western Conference playoff picture. Maybe I'm wrong.||5||12-7-0|
|Slightly better. Connor Hellebuyck has a .900 save percentage since the start of December, which helps explain why this team is sliding and heading in the wrong direction. Without their goaltender playing out of his mind, their flaws on defense are a lot harder to ignore.||3||14-7-0|
|As expected. They put up big back-to-back wins over the Bruins and Leafs on the road and maybe that gives them some confidence after a really, really tough stretch in which they seemed to expose themselves as the team we thought they'd be. Of course, any Oilers success usually comes with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the way.||2||14-11-0|
|Slightly worse. They continue to battle injuries but added some forward help in Frolik. It's hard to evaluate this team right now considering how wild and unpredictable they've been. They looked like one of the best teams for a month. They looked like one of the worst for quite a while after that. Luckily, Jack Eichel helped keep them afloat and fifth in the division is probably about where preseason expectations had them.||1||6-11-0|
|Slightly worse. With the arrival of Igor Shesterkin, they've got a three-headed beast in net and now it's time to watch to see how that situation plays out. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely he'll provide much of a solution to the struggles of this year's squad, so Artemi Panarin is going to need to continue to carry this offense as much as he can.||3||8-9-0|
|Worse. They're making moves to try and save the season. They added Marco Scandella to the blue line and signed Ilya Kovalchuk to help their depleted forward group. Kovy was immediately put into a top line role and ee looked pretty solid in his first game with the Habs on Monday, recording an assist. But it's probably fair to assume that these moves aren't significant enough to right the ship. The Habs are in the midst of another big slide, losing six in a row and falling further out of contention.||5||10-6-0|
|Much worse. New Jersey has won six of their last 10 but they still remain firmly in the basement of a tough Metropolitan division, so there's not a whole lot to get excited about - except maybe the idea of Peter Laviolette taking over behind the Devils' bench.||4||7-9-0|
|Much worse. I don't know how many "nail in the coffin" moments a team can have over the course of a single season, but the Sharks only getting one point after scoring an empty-net insurance goal in the final minute against Washington is about as demoralizing as it gets.||2||8-10-0|
|As expected. The Kings have had some bright spots this season but they're still very much a mess. They've lost six of their last eight and things should continue to be tough for them, especially as they sell off some pieces closer to the deadline. At the end of the day, this is where they were always supposed to be.||2||9-8-0|
|Worse. The greatest testament to how bad the Ducks are is that David Poile fired Peter Laviolette after losing to Anaheim, just three days after he said he wasn't considering a coaching change. Four of the Ducks' last five wins have come in the shootout, and Anaheim has just two regulation wins since the start of December.||2||6-12-0|
|Better. It may seem funny that the 30th ranked team has been better than expected, but that's how bad we expected the Senators to be. That being said, they've lost four in a row have just three wins over their last 10 games, plus they're going to start dealing away pieces soon.||2||8-16-0|
|Worse. Yes, we expected the Red Wings to be bad, but I don't think anyone expected it to be THIS ugly.||--||7-15-0|